Watchdog groups force Army, Air Force to drop sponsorship of right-wing evangelical Christian event
Mikey Weinstein planning lawsuit over Memorial Day weekend event
by JewsOnFirst.org, May 29, 2007
Links to documents and articles cited in this report immediately follow it.
Last-minute intervention by constitutional watchdog organizations forced the Army and Air Force to drop their sponsorship of a right-wing evangelical Christian event.
The event, "Salute to the Troops," at Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta ran without official government sponsorship. Planned military involvement in the three-day Memorial Day weekend event was also greatly reduced after Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) wrote to the secretaries of the Army and Air Force.
Nevertheless, Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said he is planning to sue the Pentagon over the event.
The Salute to the Troops event was advertised locally as having official Army and Air Force sponsorship. It was to have featured official military displays and speakers, most notably Army parachute jumps and hourly Air Force flyovers -- until Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation learned of it.
Americans United wrote to the secretaries of the Air Force and the Army, confronting them with evidence of their services' official invovlement in the event.
In its May 23rd letter, AU exposed the services' invovement and forced both Army and Air Force to make statements backing away from their endorsements and to greatly tone down their official participation. AU quoted a Robins Air Force Base publication calling the Stone Mountain event an "official" Air Force event. The URL AU cited, "http://www.robins.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-070504-20.pdf," appears to have been taken down.
Task Force Patriot USA
Task Force Patriot exists for the purpose of sharing the fullness of life in Jesus Christ with all U.S. military, military veterans and families. The outreach is to those in need of gaining new growth and balance in their lives.... as they assist others, while serving Him.
According to a local paper, the Gwinnett Daily Post, TFP has ambitions to expand across the country.
This super show is not a one-shot deal. Salute to the Troops is on the calendar for the next 10 years, and Task Force Patriot is planning similar events in other major cities.
Co-sponsors and participants from the Christian right
Speakers, most notably former SBC President Dr. Bobby Welch, author of You, The Warrior Leader were well known right-wing evangelicals.
Stone Mountain Park describes its workforce as "a team committed to working in a manner consistent with Christian values," suggesting at least an implied religious litmus test for employment.
In a May 24th statement noting the Stone Mountain event's saturation with Christian right groups and individuals, AU Executive Director Rev. Barry Lynn termed it "an over-the-top mixing of government and religion." Demanded Lynn: "Shouldn’t the military spend its resources on defending the country, not promoting evangelical Christianity?"
"A wretched insidious pervision"
Speaking with JewsOnFirst by telephone today, Weinstein called the Army and Air Force involvement in the Stone Mountain event "a wretched, insidious perversion of the Constitution and a felony against democracy of the first order."
Weinstein signaled that he intends to subpoena evidence of the military's involvement in the Salute, saying in an interview with TruthOut.org, "I'm advising the DOD to save all their emails and all of their correspondence relating to the planning of this event." He told TruthOut the Pentagon had better not "try and pull a Karl Rove and get rid of any of these emails. If that happens, we will move forward with obstruction of justice charges."
Asked by JewsOnFirst what he expected he might find in the DOD's correspondence, Weinstein replied, "I expect to find something worse than the Pentagon papers."
Weinstein is also considering suing over a Junior ROTC study guide distributed by the Pentagon, the Forward reported last week in a feature on the former White House lawyer. The guide recommends reading an article that calls into question Thomas Jefferson's support of church-state separation.
Last week the Los Angeles Jewish Journal also published a feature on Weinstein, who is a member of JewsOnFirst's advisory board,
No High-Flying Evangelism: Air Force And Army Back Away From Christian Event
By Lauren Smith, Americans United for Separation of Church and State Wall of Separation blog, May 25th 2007
On the heels of an Americans United complaint, the U.S. Air Force and Army are distancing themselves from an evangelical Christian event to be held this Memorial Day weekend.
Promotional material about the three-day “Salute to the Troops” celebration strongly implied that it was co-sponsored by the U.S. Air Force and Army alongside several evangelical groups: Task Force Patriot USA (TFP), Lifeway Christian Stores and Holman Bible Outreach International.
Due to intervention by Americans United, the show will go on this weekend in Stone Mountain, Ga., but without the military’s stamp of approval, reports The Washington Post reports today. Continue.
Military Support For Evangelical Rally Raises Constitutional Issues, Says Americans United
Religious Liberty Watchdog Groups Questions Armed Forces For Participating In Christian Event In Georgia
News Release, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, May 24, 2007
U.S. military participation in a three-day evangelical Christian gathering in Georgia violates the U.S. Constitution, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a May 23 letter to Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Acting Secretary of the Army Peter Geren, Americans United says the military should not endorse or promote a festival arranged by evangelical Christian groups at Stone Mountain Park. Continue.
You can see Americans United's letter to the Army and Air Force secretaries here.
Air Force officials distance selves from holiday event held by evangelical group
By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes, May 26, 2007
WASHINGTON — Air Force officials are distancing themselves from a Georgia Memorial Day event sponsored by an evangelical group whose mission is to spread Christianity through the military.
The annual “Salute to the Troops” at Stone Mountain Park, being held for the fourth time this Saturday through Monday, is scheduled to include flyovers, a C-17 display, a concert with the service band and other Air Force activities.
But the event also will include numerous Christian speakers and worship services. Lead sponsor Task Force Patriot USA, an evangelical Christian veterans group, had identified the activities as an Air Force-endorsed event and an official part of their 60th anniversary celebrations. Continue.
Air Force flybys will go on at Stone Mountain
Military's involvement criticized over event's Christian orientation
By Jeffry Scott, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 26, 2007
The Air Force will still do jet flybys this weekend over the "Task Force Patriot Salute to The Troops" event at Stone Mountain Park despite criticism from a group that says the military's involvement violates the Constitution because the event is Christian-oriented.
But, instead of nine flyovers, which were in the plans earlier this week, said Stone Mountain Park spokeswoman Christine Parker, there will only be two: One at noon Saturday; one at 2 p.m. Monday.
"That's the only change they've made," said Parker. "And they said the reason for that was the number of requests for flybys at other Memorial Day events around the country." Continue.
Patriotic event's flyover called off
Air Force cites event's 'religious connotation'
By Jeffry Scott, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 25, 2007
It's billed as the "Task Force Patriot Salute to The Troops."
But the U.S. Air Force —- which is part of the three-day extravaganza of fighter jet flybys, bands and Christian worship this weekend at Stone Mountain Park —- is in retreat.
After a group calling itself Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter Wednesday to Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Acting Secretary of the Army Peter Green, protesting that the military involvement violates the U.S. Constitution, the Air Force on Thursday issued a statement saying it wasn't aware of the "religious connotation surrounding" the event. Continue.
Stone Mountain Salute Draws Crowds
Jaye Watson, Atlanta Television Channel 11, May 28, 2007
By the end of Monday night, 100,000 people will have come to Stone Mountain Park. This year, they have their fourth annual Patriots' Salute To The Troops. Continue.
Army and Air Force Deny Formal Links To Christian Event
Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, May 25, 2007
After complaints by a government watchdog group, the Air Force and the Army partially distanced themselves yesterday from a three-day evangelical Christian event this weekend at a Georgia theme park.
The Memorial Day weekend "Salute to the Troops" celebration at Stone Mountain Park is sponsored by Task Force Patriot USA, a private group that says its purpose is "sharing the fullness of life in Jesus Christ with all U.S. military, military veterans and families," and whose Web site says "Christ is our Commander-in-Chief."
In recent days, both the Task Force Patriot USA Web site and the newspaper of Robins Air Force Base, Ga., described the celebration as "an official U.S. Air Force 60th Anniversary event." Along with speeches by evangelical ministers, church services and distribution of Bibles, the published schedule promised "hourly flyovers" by Air Force jets, performances by military bands, color guard presentations, a parachute demonstration by the Army's elite Silver Wings jump team from Fort Benning, Ga., and exhibitions of Air Force equipment. Continue.
Under Fire from Church-State Groups, Air Force Retreats from Evangelical Festival
By Bob Allen, Ethics Daily, May 30, 2007
The Air Force denied it was a sponsor of a Memorial Day weekend festival at Stone Mountain, Ga., honoring the military and featuring introduction of a new paperback Bible designed for military personnel published by the Southern Baptist Convention.
Holman Bible Outreach International, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources, announced plans to give away 3,000 copies of its new Holman CSB Military Bible, "designed to meet the specific needs of military personnel and was created a format that is easy to carry," at the May 26-28 event honoring active duty and veteran U.S. troops and their families. Continue.
Group Threatens to Sue Pentagon Over Military Role in Evangelical Festival
Matt Renner, Truthout, May 25, 2007
A scheduled three-day celebration of the US Air Force's 60th anniversary, sponsored in part by evangelical Christian organizations, has prompted a military watchdog group to threaten legal action against the Department of Defense.
The controversial event, sponsored by Task Force Patriot USA, an evangelical organization, and LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing house of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), was described by the official publication of the Robins Air Force Base as "an official US Air Force 60th Anniversary event." The paper stated that the religious groups and the United States Air Force "have joined together to create a three-day celebration ..."
Slated for the Memorial Day weekend, the "Salute To The Troops, Memorial Day Celebration" will take place at Stone Mountain, an Atlanta, Georgia theme park. The event is supposed to feature hourly flyovers by Air Force planes and parachute jumps by the US Army's Silver Wings Parachute Jump Team. Scheduled speakers include former SBC President Bobby Welch and US Air Force Major Brian "Jethro" Neal, a B-2 pilot, who will speak during a worship service that was to feature a flyover by a stealth bomber. SBC officials stated that special Bibles for military personnel would be disseminated at the gathering. Continue
Group plans event to salute the troops
By Susan Larson, Gwinnett Daily Post, May 20, 2007
In 1998, Maj. Jim Freeman went on a mission to help military people connect with each other.
“Vets are bonded together in a special way I can’t describe,” Freeman said. “If they have a wholesome environment where they can talk with each other, it can help eliminate any long-term emotional problems they might have.”
So he and his wife Peggy started with clipboards and listed all the local veterans they knew. In 1999, 35 vets formed Task Force Patriot USA. Today, more than 550 vets representing 100 different churches and synagogues meet for dinner the first Thursday of every month at First Baptist Church in Lilburn. Continue.
Southern Baptists to Distribute Bibles at Huge Memorial Day Event
By Jennifer Riley, Christian Post, May 26, 2007
Holman Bible Outreach International will distribute thousands of military Bibles at the largest Memorial Day Weekend event in the Atlanta area, which expects to draw around 100,000 people.
The event – sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources, United States Air Force, Task Force Patriot USA, General Motors and others – will take place May 26-28 at the popular Atlanta theme park Stone Mountain Park to honor active duty and veteran U.S. troops and their families.
During the weekend, Holman Bible Outreach International (HBOI) plans to introduce its new paperback Holman CSB Military Bible and give away 3,000 copies of it to veterans and others during the weekend celebration. Continue.
LifeWay, Holman Bible Outreach International to sponsor Memorial Day Weekend celebration honoring U.S. troops
Holman Bible Outreach website, May 26, 2007
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – LifeWay Christian Resources and Holman Bible Outreach International (HBOI) have teamed with Task Force Patriot USA, General Motors Corporation, Stone Mountain Park and the United States Air Force to create a three-day event honoring active duty and veteran U.S. troops and their families.
Task Force Patriot Salute to the Troops, the largest Memorial Day Weekend event in the Atlanta area, will take place May 26-28 at Stone Mountain Park and is expected to draw more than 100,000 people. Continue.
Church-State Crusader Takes Aim at ROTC
Rebecca Spence, Forward, May 25, 2007
In the latest battle in his war against proselytizing in the ranks of America’s military, Air Force veteran and church-state separation activist Mikey Weinstein is taking aim at the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
Weinstein, who sued the Air Force in 2005 for religious coercion, is calling attention to a passage in the Junior ROTC’s curriculum that questions the legitimacy of the separation between church and state. Researchers at Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a not-for-profit group he founded to protect First Amendment rights in the military, discovered the passage in an educational guide distributed by the Defense Department to the military’s high-school leadership training program. Continue.
By Rob Eshman, Editor-in-Chief, Jewish Journal, May 18, 2007
A force of nature named Michael Weinstein swept into my office and set about trying to convince me this country is in much bigger trouble than I can imagine.
According to Weinstein, the U.S. military "has just been completely infused by premillennial, dispensational, reconstructionist, dominionist, evangelical, fundamentalist Christians who want to spread a weaponized version of the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Instead of using the might of the most powerful war machine in the history of the world to defend all Americans, these evangelical Christians seek to spread democracy and the gospel, to be crusaders for Christ, at any cost to America and to treat American military personnel as "the lowest hanging fruit" in their drive to evangelize. "There's a serious threat out there that we view to be as much a national security threat internally to this country as that presented externally by Al Qaeda," he said. Continue.